Confessions of a Closet Catholic is Sarah Darer Littman's first book. She tackles a subject many novelists avoid: religion. And she does a wonderful job.
The Plot: Justine Silver is eleven-going-on-twelve; she's the middle child. As she explains it, Mom loves her older sister, Helena, best; Dad loves her younger brother, Jake, best; and oh, yeah, Mom also likes the family dog more than she likes Justine. Justine's family has just moved and Justine is adjusting to the move but luckily has found a new best friend, Mary Catherine "Mac" McAllister. Mac is giving up chocolate for Lent. Justine decides to give up being Jewish. She's not quite sure how to go about being Catholic, like her friend Mac. So Justine practices confession in her closet, giving herself "Hail Mary"s for penance (though she is hesitant about saying the "J word" or "M.O.G." so she skips those parts.)
The Good: A book that treats religion, faith, questioning and belonging with respect, sympathy, honesty and humor. CoaCC weaves together 3 different threads: a search for the spiritual; the appeal of a different family; and the bonds of family.
Jussy's search for the spiritual, for meaning, and for guidance is both amusing (Jussy dresses as a nun for her closet confessionals and has crib notes for the Seven Deadly Sins; she believes she's committed 5 and a half of 7) and touching (her Bubbe is a Holocaust survivor).
Also honest is Justine's falling for for her friend Mac's family. At that age, other people's families can be unintentionally seductive, and Littman portrays this with a perfect touch.
Justine feels the odd person out in her family, and that Bubbe is the only one who understands her.
While this all sounds serious -- and serious issues are addressed -- CoaCC is also very, very funny. This is a great book, with a little of everything.